In this article, we're going to look at how to write a really attention grabbing, compelling case study that will help you leverage your proprietary knowledge and experience. A great case study is all about telling a success story – and people love to hear those!
Let’s start with the 5 W’s. These are fundamental:
If you can open with these five items, the introduction virtually writes itself. It’s important to keep this brief: remember, brevity is the soul of readability, and a sentence on each of these points will be perfectly adequate.The main body of the case study can be divided into three main parts:
Let’s look at these in more detail.
The challenge that was faced: what did the client want? What was the problem? This might not involve a client at all: it could be an internal problem that you solved, or an organisation-wide issue that you all had to pull together to solve.
It’s important to check with the client what they thought the problem was here, too: remember, when you have a hammer, all problems look like a nail. Use open-ended questions to elicit considered responses from clients.
The solution to that challenge: who was involved? How did you start? Did you have a clear solution in mind before you started, or did it become apparent as you started to break the problem down? Was it even a problem that had a combination of solutions?
Again, check the client’s perception of what the solution was: if you’re a software provider, to you, all the solutions look like “providing software”, but for a client, that might only have been part of the solution.
The benefits gained: in much the same was as we define a business risk, the outcome is crucial. Was the benefit financial? Reputational? Of value to the client, or your own organisation? Was it a total solution, or perhaps part of a larger one?
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell a neat success story: we want things to be simple, but they rarely are. Most of the projects I’ve worked on have had multiple failures along the road to success, and some of them even failed altogether! Focus on the really important events: talk about how you overcame setbacks along the way, and remember that you’re the hero of the story.
You also need to focus on making it readable. It’s vital to avoid hyperbole: as soon as I see people talking about “Enterprise-class, world-leading solutions”, I switch off, and so will your readers.
Keeping it concise really helps people get to the end. Unless your case study features a multi-year, multi-workstream project that several hundred people were involved in, you need a word limit – try a maximum of 750 words, then see if you can take 10% of the words away.
It’s a lot harder to write for tabloid newspapers than broadsheets, because you are obliged to use fewer – and simpler – words to tell the same story.There are some key Do’s and Don’ts for a great case study, which we'll share with you soon, here in the Case Study Academy.
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